Grenfell Tower inquiry to 'lift lid' on Whitehall's handling of safety advice

Written by Jim Dunton on 15 September 2017 in News
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New document reveals plans to probe central government responses to previous high-rise fires and impact of any failings on west London tragedy

Grenfell Tower in west London. Credit: PA

A core element of the Grenfell Tower inquiry is likely to shed light on the extent to which government ministers and civil servants failed to implement the lessons learned from previous high-rise fires, it has emerged.

According to an 11 page "list of issues" document published to coincide with the opening of the public inquiry into the 14 June inferno that left at least 80 people dead, one strand of work will focus on central government’s response to earlier tragedies – particularly the 2009 Lakanal House fire in south London.

Inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick is understood to be seeking a range of information from the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Cabinet Office, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as part of the process.


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While the initial focus of the inquiry is expected to cover immediate lessons that can be drawn from the tower-block fire, the full “list of issues” document underscores the extent to which former judge Moore-Bick plans to put the government’s response to previous fires under the microscope.

It includes a pledge to investigate recommendations from inquiries, inquests, investigations, experts, professional and trade bodies and parliamentary committees that – with hindsight – have relevance for Grenfell Tower, and the extent to which central and local government took “appropriate steps” to act on them.

The document makes specific reference to the Lakanal House fire, in which six people died. As Civil Service World reported in June, while 24-storey Grenfell Tower and 14-storey Lakanal House were built to different designs, the coroner who presided over the inquest on the fire victims made recommendations to ministers that mirrored concerns exposed in the immediate aftermath of this summer’s fire.

According to the issues list, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will seek to uncover “what steps were taken by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the London Fire Brigade or any other body to implement the recommendations of the coroner following the Lakanal House inquest”.

Most tellingly, the inquiry is proposing to examine the extent to which those recommendations were implemented, the reasons for not implementing them, and the impact of that on the “manner and speed of the spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower”. 

The inquest reported in 2013, and coroner Frances Kirkham’s letter – which called for ministers to update Building Regulations for clarity and consider championing the retro-fitting of sprinkler systems among other recommendations  – was addressed to then communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Opening the Grenfell inquiry yesterday, Moore-Bick stressed that the list of issues was not “exhaustive” and would be open to expansion.

“It is in the very nature of a process of this kind that I shall want to follow up leads and new lines of inquiry as they emerge, so the list of issues should be viewed more as a statement of current thinking than a definitive programme of work,” he said.

He also warned that he was fully prepared to use statutory powers under the 2005 Inquiries Act to require the production of documents and the attendance of witnesses.

“We are all searching after the truth about the cause of the fire and the massive loss of life that it caused and we owe it to those who died, and to those whose homes have been destroyed, to work together to achieve that goal,” he said.

Moore-Bick reiterated his aim of producing an interim report by Easter next year. 

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